Yes, I am going to go here.
Out of the 10 copies of the first 25 pages of my novel returned to me, scribbled on by the writers in my core group at the SCBWI retreat, I kept 4. Those 4 contained thoughtful, constructive criticism. The 6 I discarded were: mean, rude, and 1 writer actually crossed out my sentences and replaced them with her own as she attempted to turn my story into what she wanted to read instead of the story I am telling.
I found this quite shocking. Not to mention a bad idea.
If you’re a writer, you are well acquainted with criticism. So–be professional. By which I mean: respectful and mindful when offering criticism and far more creative than unhelpful one-liners such as, this is annoying, I don’t like this, doesn’t work. As the red, red nib of your pen hovers over another writer’s work, keep in mind how you’d like your own work critiqued and dig beyond one-liners which are way too easy to come by (key word: lazy).
SCBWI provided a Critiquing Sheet to all retreat participants—healthy, practical, professional guidelines I continually referred to as I poured over manuscripts. I wish more of the writers in my group had taken the guidelines to heart. Or bothered to read them at all.
And look! Here is a book to keep you from turning into Linda Blair at her foamiest in The Exorcist when you are critiquing: The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback, by Becky Levine
I am very fortunate to have a writing mentor who immediately, before the words were hardly out of my mouth in yesterday’s video chat, encouraged me to ignore the mean comments and the rewrites of my work. My mentor has many Middle Grade books published, her own beautiful library created through care and sweat (and no doubt blood and guts). She has experienced plenty of criticism and critique groups and now has a group she trusts and consistently benefits from—not because her group isn’t candid about her work, but because she is surrounded by writers who know how to critique without turning into vicious, nasty a******s. “Your critique group is out there, PB,” she told me. “Now, let’s get to work. Tell me everything the editor at the retreat wrote about your novel and let’s discuss. This is so exciting!”
Moving on, now. Moving on.
And here is a writer:
Wow, the school of hard knocks – thankfully you have a mentor to immediately give perspective, even when we know it’s due to the inexperience of the critic, it’s not easy to absorb thoughtless comments. Bravo and bonne courage!
Thanks, Claire. I’m glad I went–and very grateful for my mentor.
Oh, no, SERIOUSLY? I usually expect one or two people to totally miss and/or ignore the guidelines, but SIX? Arghhhhh. Okay, let’s think about those four, and the editor – your mentor is right. Moving on. 🙂
Yes, I was surprised, but my mentor was not. One thing that was really encouraging was how friendly, professional and/yet receptive all the editors were to the retreat attendees. I was very impressed by them all.